PROVO, Utah — Utah County's Health Department issued a public health order implementing a face mask mandate immediately in an effort to get control of COVID-19 cases that have surged in recent days.
The order bypasses the county commission, but was done with commissioners' blessings, according to a post on Twitter by Commission Chair Tanner Ainge. It follows public pressure by Governor Gary Herbert for Utah County to take action to get control of a spiraling out of control situation.
After the action taken today by @GovHerbert, @UtahDepOfHealth, direction from @BYU and @uvu_president, deliberation with @UtahCountyGov, local mayors, @UCSO, @uvchamber and business community, we’ve jointly issued this letter and order with @UCHD and @IvieNathan#MaskUpUtah pic.twitter.com/7GXhtjGewN— Tanner Ainge (@TannerAinge) September 23, 2020
The order requires face coverings in public immediately and expires Oct. 20. It does not carry criminal penalties, a key provision to win approval from Commissioner Nathan Ivie, who was a "swing vote" for a mask mandate. He told FOX 13 in an interview earlier on Tuesday that he would not support a mandate with criminal penalties, but believed residents must wear face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19. Utah County's sheriff said he would not enforce a mandate with criminal penalties.
"People cry freedom, cry freedom, well you know what? With freedom comes responsibility. And it’s time we start acting responsible," Commissioner Ivie told FOX 13.
Utah County has faced protests and lawsuits over COVID-19 restrictions. People packed the county commission chambers to protest the governor's mandate that all K-12 schools require face coverings. It forced commissioners to end the meeting because COVID-19 health guidelines were being disregarded. The governor is also being sued by Utah County residents of the restrictions he has put in place.
On Tuesday, Gov. Herbert moved Provo and Orem into the "orange" restriction level for COVID-19 after last week saw more than 1,000 new cases for two consecutive days. It means that businesses must limit in-person dining options (including closing buffets) and large gatherings are restricted. Utah's Department of Health granted an exception: sports can continue -- without spectators.
The presidents of Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University also threatened an end to in-person classes as a result of the surge. Health officials have said it is being driven largely by off-campus activities, including parties, that disregard health guidelines.
In a post on Twitter late Tuesday, Gov. Herbert signaled he was pleased with the decision:
This is a wise decision by members of the Utah County Commission. A countywide mask requirement will help slow the spread of COVID-19 in hotspots across Utah County. We encourage all to wear masks - remember, my mask protects you and yours protects me. https://t.co/mRPHitqHiw— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) September 23, 2020
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who had pleaded for a statewide mask mandate, was also happy and praised commissioners Ainge and Ivie: